This is an article written by Tom Vail and originally published in Haiti Rewired.
It is a curious phenomenon. We each have our areas of expertise and our areas of concern. When the two come together, a powerful force for good can be the result. When they don’t, long-term harm can be the unintentional result.
Imagine a large international charitable aid organization with great expertise in feeding the poor. If their expertise was nutrition and they not only fed the poor but fed them healthy foods, they would accomplish both short and long term goods.
But, think if their expertise was really in fund-raising and the logistics of getting food to starving people. Maybe they would accept a huge donation from a producer of high fructose corn syrup. The donation of literally tons of food, the key ingredient of which is high fructose corn syrup, would be hard to turn down. It could, at least short-term, alleviate hunger. Chances are good that to solve the short term need, they would accept and distribute the product. In the long term, they may be contributing to more ill health and suffering.
A similar situation exists today as literally hundreds of relief and charitable organizations have descended upon Haiti to help in the aftermath of the huge tragedy precipitated by the earthquake in January of this year. It is said that over a million people were left without shelter, so most of the aid groups are doing what they can to provide shelter. First, they have supplied tents and tarps. Now they are all planning to build both transitional housing and permanent housing.
Because many of the involved organizations have expertise in other areas, some are missing the root cause of the devastation in Haiti and it is allowing them to miss a very important factor in the rebuilding process. The root cause of the devastation? Poor quality concrete. The quake probably killed no single person. Falling buildings did. Why did they fall? The quality of the concrete in most structures is horrible – a disaster just waiting to happen – and it did.
Most groups want to employ the local labor force and want to use local materials and rebuild to fit the culture with which the Haitian population is comfortable. The result is that most concrete in Haiti, even today, is being mixed improperly. Men mixing materials on the ground with shovels will never accomplish consistent quality concrete, especially when they are mixing “by eye” rather than by actually measuring the materials.
We wouldn’t sell cars to underdeveloped nations that lacked safety glass, seat belts, or brakes. Why would we even consider rebuilding a country with concrete that will do little more than set the stage for the next disaster?
We really have two choices: We can do what we have been doing and literally build the foundation of the next great disaster; or We can add mechanical mixers and material measurement systems to make the concrete to rebuild Haiti.